Christian Pilgrimages and Spiritual Journeys.
Isaiah 35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Romans 5:8 All But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)
Christian Pilgrimages and Tours of France Lourdes.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines pilgrimage as “a journey to a sacred place or shrine,” with a pilgrim as “one who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred.”
Pilgrims and the French pilgrimage routes Pilgrim paths of France (the Ways of St James) Every year thousands of pilgrims cross France, usually on foot or on bicycle, on the four main pilgrimage routes that lead, via Spain, to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella (often spelt Compostela) in north-west Spain. These routes are also known as the 'Ways of St James'. St James (James the Great) was beheaded by Herod - he was the first of the apostles to be martyred - and was thought to have been buried in north-west Spain. His tomb was, so they say, discovered in the 9th century, and a church was built on the site.
The place rapidly became a major pilgrimage destination, and during the Middle Ages up to two million people each year were attracted to the site. The pilgrimage itself often took (and still takes) many weeks or months, and involved crossing a large part of France and the whole of northern Spain. Other churches were founded along the route and hostels and hospices opened to cater for the pilgrims. The routes tended to take in other places of religious importance e.g. Rocamadour, en route.
A tourist industry also built up along the pilgrimage routes, and the Codex Calixtinus (written in Latin by a French monk), published in the 12th century to help the pilgrims identify the best places to stay, is reputed to be the first ever tourist guidebook. In many places across France, especially in the south-west, you will the 'shell' insignia of the pilgrims - the scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrims and can be seen carved into numerous doorways in the region. The significance of the shell arose because the earlist pilgrims carried back shells withthem to prove that they had indeed completed the journey. UNESCO has now designated the entire route as a World Heritage Site, with 69 monuments along the route being listed as important. The resurgence in popularity of the pilgrim routes in the last 15 years is undoubtedly largely because of this, and most who now walk the 'camino' do it for pleasure as much as to seek penance for their terrible sins.
The government in Galicia - the part of north-west Spain where Santiago de Compostella is found - actively promote Santiago and the camino pilgrimage paths as a tourist detination. (Irrelevant note - I have some friends who bought a property about 50 metres from one of the principal pilgrimage routes, and they were told they need permission to plant anything bigger than a small vegetable in the garden, because the ground must not be disturbed!)
Perhaps even jaded travelers could uncover inspiration in Lourdes, the most beaten of paths. Along Boulevard de la Grotte, one of the main streets in Lourdes, endless paraphernalia seduced from wall-to-wall souvenir shops. I came across a black-and-white photo of 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, whose visions brought the city its recognition. Though a round-faced brunette with thick eyebrows in life, she was widely depicted as a fair-haired child with a lamb. A marketing department somewhere had turned her into a poster pinup for God. Even though I had been warned that it was “just a dent in the hills,” the Grotto of Massabielle, where the Virgin is said to have appeared, was anticlimactic.
From behind the sea of people, I caught a glimpse of the Virgin Mary statue and objects hanging from the ceiling and walls of the grotto. On the other hand, the nearby spring known for miracle-cure capabilities was an impressive gusher. A very efficient system of faucets sprouted from a curved metal railing on the side of a hill. When pushed, the timed taps released energetic streams of water. It all seemed much more suited to a campsite or a sports stadium than as the source of a holy spring. Families lined up at the taps with 5-gallon (19 liter) jugs. A woman rubbed her feet with determination under an endless stream of holy water, and young people refilled their Evian water bottles. Everyone had a different method of stocking up on holiness. The visual centerpiece of the sanctuaries was the Basilica of the Rosary, built 13 years after the apparitions. The breathtaking affair of spires and towers with gold detailing gave the place a surreal, fairy-tale air.